Belvoir Castle (Kokhav HaYarden)
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Belvoir Fortress, north of Beit Shean, was built by the Ordre des Hospitaliers - or the Knights Hospitaller - during the time of the first crusades. This fortress is one of the most intact of its kind in the world.
[Posted by Ari Gruen, 2008-2010 English Tour Guide Course, Lander College in Jerusalem]
We were led by Dr. Nahum Sagiv, an accomplished archaeologist with expertise in classical archaeology, who despite the size of our group and our many questions, made sure that we didn’t miss any of the fascinating details of the fortress.
Belvoir is located in the Kochav HaYarden national park some 20km south of the Kineret on a plateau overlooking the Jordan river. The fortress certainly lives up to its name - Bel = beautiful, voir = view, as the view of the Jordan valley and the mountains of Jordan across the river is simply breathtaking. Dr. Sagiv suggested that optimal visiting time to the fortress would be in the afternoon/evening, so that with the sun at our backs, the view to the East would be most spectacular.
Dr. Sagiv led us on a simulated attack of the fortress, so that we could get a good feel of the impressive defenses of the fortress. Descending into the large moat that surrounds the fortress on 3 sides, we noted the sloped wall of the outer fortress, designed to insure a clear line of fire for the defending knights. Once through the outer doors, Dr. Sagiv pointed out the many archery slits overlooking the maze-like passageway into the castle, and the opening through which hot oil would be poured on our heads before making it though the inner doors to the fortress. Ouch! It’s no wonder the fortress was able to withstand a year-and-a-half long siege until finally surrendering to Saladin and his forces in January, 1189.
Other highlights of our tour included a visit to the fortress’ water cistern, kitchen, and dining areas, plus a walk through the fortress’ posterns – the secret passageways that allowed the castle’s defenders to slip in and out of the castle undetected.
We also noted several stones with Jewish markings in the walls of the fortress. These stones were apparently taken by the crusaders from a nearby ancient Jewish settlement for use in building the fortress. Upon close inspection of the inner walls of the fortress, it was also fascinating to see the individual signs each mason used to mark the stones they had carved from the mountain.
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